Finding Balance

Finding Balance

How do you strike a balance between career advancement and life fulfillment? Hear from a round table of powerful, successful Canadian business women on what their strategy is.

How Brenda Rideout became the first female CEO of a major Canadian financial institution

In just one leap of faith, Brenda Rideout entered the new world of fintech in the 90s, kick-starting a nearly 20 year tenure at one of Canada’s most innovative financial institutions, Tangerine Bank, where she is now CEO. Learn how her personal passion, several influential women, and a desire to be bold has helped shape Brenda’s impressive career.


By Shelley White



Tangerine Bank CEO Brenda Rideout has never been afraid to take a risk.

“When new opportunities presented themselves, I raised my hand for them,” she says of her impressive career path. In March, Brenda became the first female CEO of a major Canadian financial institution, a remarkable milestone in an industry where women in top jobs are still few and far between.

Brenda recalls the leap of faith she took when she first joined ING Direct in 1999 (which rebranded as Tangerine in 2014). She was at Shoppers Drug Mart at the time, when she heard that ING Direct founder Arkadi Kulmann was looking for a director of software development to give the bank an Internet presence in Canada. After a meeting with the iconoclastic CEO, Brenda was inspired by his vision of branchless, Internet banking.

“That was in the 90s, so there were organizations that had static websites, but nobody had a truly transactional website,” says Brenda. “So I went home that night to tell my husband, ‘You know what? I’m going to leave my nice, secure job at Shoppers to go work for this direct bank and help Canadians save their money.’”

It was a bold and risky move, but Brenda liked the idea of being able to create something innovative from scratch. “It was a startup, so I wouldn’t have to worry about legacy systems,” she says. “I would have the opportunity to build and shape from a technology standpoint.”

Technology had been a passion for Brenda ever since high school. Growing up the youngest of six kids in a “typical, middle-class family” in Toronto, Brenda took an introduction to computers course and learned early programming languages like BASIC and FORTRAN. She was instantly hooked.

“My parents were encouraging me to become a nurse or a teacher, so you can imagine their surprise when I told them I wanted to study computers and program,” she says. “They didn’t know what that was. There was no such thing as the Internet at that time, let alone videogames and the gadgets we have today.”

After high school, Brenda studied computers at Seneca College, then began working as a programmer. Craving opportunities for advancement, she took a job with Imperial Life Insurance Company, where she worked her way up into management. It was at Imperial Life that Brenda met her first mentor, Carole Briard (who would go on to become Chief Information Officer at Bank of Canada).

“Carole played a key role throughout my career,” says Brenda. “There were very few [women in technology at the time], and that connection with another female leader who was trying to advance in technology was very important. To this day, we are still very close.”


“There were very few women in technology at the time, and that connection with another female leader who was trying to advance in technology was very important.”


Brenda also believes in continuous learning. She holds a number of technology certificates, and completed an Executive Program at Queen’s University in addition to a Masters Certificate in Innovation at Schulich School of Business.

A strong advocate for the advancement of women in the Canadian workforce, Brenda has led the women in leadership program at Tangerine for several years. She says that mentoring can be a valuable way for women to support each other.

“I think that lack of confidence and fear of failure can hold us back, myself included,” she says. “I definitely reach out to my female network. And it’s not about just seeking a mentor to say you have a mentor, but being willing to ask for help.”

The late Mona Goldstein, Toronto marketing guru and CEO at Wunderman, was another important mentor in Brenda’s life. After successfully taking on several operational-type roles at ING Direct, Brenda was asked to head up marketing for the company, a position she found daunting.


“It’s not about just seeking a mentor to say you have a mentor, but being willing to ask for help.”


“It was not necessarily in my wheelhouse and I certainly felt inept at times, wondering, ‘What am I doing here?’ My confidence was wavering,” says Brenda. “But Mona provided me some tremendous insight and encouragement and was one of the smartest, most inspirational women I’ve ever met.”

As a mom with a high-profile career, Brenda says work-life balance could be a challenge, especially when her son was young. In the tech world, working after hours is a necessity. Because it was hard to control her afternoons and evenings, Brenda says she felt strongly that she needed to control her mornings.

“I needed to connect with my son in the morning, so I would have breakfast with him every morning, I’d give him a hug, I’d put him on the bus. In banking, it’s quite common to have breakfast meetings starting at 7:30am, and I really had to be strong about saying no to early morning meetings,” says Brenda. “If you say no often enough, and say, ‘I’m happy to meet with you later in the day, but I’m not coming in for a breakfast meeting,’ people get used to it.”

Brenda says she still makes mornings with her family a priority.

“My son is 14 now and we still have breakfast every morning, although I think it’s more for me than him now. It’s getting harder to get that hug,” she laughs.

When she’s not carving a path for women in leadership roles, Brenda says she craves time in the outdoors with her family – hiking, golfing, skiing and walking their two dogs.

“I also enjoy cooking and baking,” she says. “If my husband will get the ingredients, I’m more than happy to put on some music and cook in my kitchen.”

Brenda attributes her career success to a strong work ethic and ample curiosity. “And having family and friends and mentors – people you can talk to and trust – is a must,” she adds.

Her advice for women hoping to emulate her success? Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn, and raise your hand when opportunities arise.

“Joining ING Direct was a risk,” she says. “But the journey has been amazing.”




Meet Carolina Parra: An Executive That’s Balancing Career and Family

Carolina Parra is the Vice President of Corporate and Commercial Risk at Scotiabank Chile. She’s also a mother, wife, and adamant advocate for the value of diversity, recognizing that when a diverse group of talented individuals is heard, incredible things can happen for both business and culture. 


By Shelley White



Carolina Parra is an executive at one of Chile’s banks. She’s also a wife and mother to a 7-year-old daughter. But whether Carolina’s in the boardroom or at home, she makes it clear which role comes first.

“Balancing is hard, but I’m a wife and mother first and that’s my priority and there’s no discussion about that,” says Carolina, Vice President of Corporate and Commercial risk at Scotiabank Chile. “Building a family takes teamwork and my husband is my teammate. He is a husband and father first. Our family is central to what we do and it is a balancing act to ensure that one or both of us is always in our daughter’s life.”

Growing up in Bogota, Colombia as the eldest of two daughters, Carolina says her upbringing had a huge impact on her career aspirations and future success.

“Both my parents worked when we were growing up and had successful careers – my dad in business and my mother as a dentist,” she says. “Seeing their passion for their work was what inspired me to focus on studying and challenge myself, making sure I could reach whatever goal I wanted.”

Watching her parents successfully balance rewarding careers and family life was an important influence on Carolina’s life. “They ensured we would always spend time together at the end of the day to share our activities and celebrate whatever we had accomplished,” she says. “That really was the basis for what my family is today.”

After completing her industrial engineering degree at university in Bogota and a stint in consulting, Carolina found herself drawn to the world of commercial banking. She says she always liked the financial side and enjoyed numbers. Over the next two decades, Carolina expanded her expertise, working in different areas of banking as well as several different countries, including Colombia, Puerto Rico, Chile and Canada. She says her experiences enhanced her appreciation for diverse cultures, as well as the need to understand context when entering a new environment.

“Each culture has its wonderful sides, and its quirks,” she says. “The first thing you need to learn is that each culture is shaped by what the people have lived through in the past, and you need to understand, respect and enjoy that.”

In addition to leading a team of 60 people as a vice president at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina is also a proud member of Chile’s diversity and inclusion council because “that’s the world’s reality now,” she says. “Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse.  Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”

“Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse.  Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”

To promote diversity at Scotiabank Chile, the council has created an internal communications campaign to educate the workforce on the benefits of diversity and inclusion, as well as hosting multicultural lunches with staff to celebrate the different cultural backgrounds of employees. The council also recently launched an initiative to recruit more people with disabilities.

“At Scotiabank, we’re all working to create awareness that there’s value to diversity, that we need to cherish and create that shift in culture to challenge our unconscious bias and create that inclusive environment,” says Carolina.

She notes that women can undercut their own progress by not “raising their hand” when it comes to promotion opportunities. That’s why she believes it’s important for senior management to help identify women who are ready for career advancement.

Coaching can also be a powerful tool to help talented women progress in the business world. “It’s that constant feedback to employees to focus on how they can improve, how they can expand their influence and improve their technical skills,” says Carolina.

For women who want to excel in their chosen industry, Carolina says her first advice is always, find what you love and do it very well.

“You have to love it, you have to own it and show people that you are good at it,” she says. “The second piece of advice is make your voice heard. In a discussion, raise your hand and speak up. The third piece of advice is in order to advance and be a leader, you need to learn to coach and develop other people, because that speaks highly of how much of a leader you can be.”

When she isn’t leading her team or coaching the next generation at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina’s focus is on spending her leisure time with her family, in activities like swimming and playing tennis.

She hopes to raise her daughter with the same confidence that she grew up with, and the knowledge that it’s possible to have both a family and a fulfilling career.

“Family has to be the priority in my world,” she reiterates firmly. “If it’s not, I’m only making a living, I’m not making a life. Life is what matters in the end.”




A new view of “having it all”

Mary Anne Turcke

“In the workplace, we need to be asking, ‘How do we get better at helping everyone spend time the way they need to when their loved ones are in need?’ It ought not to be a women’s issue.”

By Shelley White

When it comes to women’s work-life balance, Mary Ann Turcke wants to change the conversation.

It shouldn’t be about “women having it all,” it should be about “families having it all,” says Mary Ann, president of Bell Media and one of Canada’s most influential leaders.

“Balance for me is my whole family’s balance,” she says. “No matter who you define as your family, everybody [in that family] has to ‘have it all.’ And in the workplace, we need to be asking, ‘How do we get better at helping everyone spend time the way they need to when their loved ones are in need?’ It ought not to be a women’s issue.”

As the head of a multimedia giant, Mary Ann is an example of just how high women can rise in the workplace. An engineer by trade, she began her career as a district manager for the Ministry of Transportation in her hometown of Kingston, Ontario, working in highway operations. A move to Toronto and a series of management positions in the private sector followed, until she joined Bell Canada in 2005. At Bell, Mary Ann took on executive positions in customer experience, operations, and sales before landing the top job in 2015.

It has been an enviable career path, but Mary Ann vividly remembers when her two children were young and juggling work and home life was a challenge.

“My husband and I both struggled. I remember many days, waking up and one kid is sick and they have to go to the doctor and us shooting ‘rock-paper-scissors’ to see who will take them,” she recalls. “It was tough, very tough, but we somehow managed.”

“Balance for me is my whole family’s balance,” she says. “No matter who you define as your family, everybody [in that family] has to ‘have it all.’”

By working together and being open about what they needed, Mary Ann says she and her husband were able to balance those work-life challenges. She also wasn’t afraid to “make the ask” at work when it came to important moments with her kids.

“I managed to find the pockets, where if I really wanted to do something, whether it was to go to school to watch a volleyball game or driving home from school with my kids, I made sure I did it,” she says. “I didn’t do it all the time, but I made sure I got to do those things and I worked for people who were very, very supportive of that.”

As her children have grown, Mary Ann says that openness has continued to be a vital part of keeping their family balance in check.

“I have a 21-year-old and a 16-year-old — two girls — and when they want me at something, they are open about that,” she says. “When we need each other, we make the time to be with one another.”

Mary Ann says that her children have also come to recognize that they enjoy certain benefits of having top executives for parents (her husband is Gordon Mcilquham, senior vice-president at Shaftsbury Films Inc.) and understand the trade-offs they’ve all made.

“For my kids, the trade-off was, if your health card is expired, you figure out how to take the subway down to Service Ontario and fix it. If you forgot your lunch at home, don’t do it again tomorrow, you’re only going to be hungry,” says Mary Ann. “We’ve had help and caregivers which obviously eases things on the home front, but I think they’ve ended up being quite independent and confident in what they want to pursue.”

When her family spends time together, they make it count, says Mary Ann. One of the special activities they enjoy together is sailing.

“We get on a sailboat, we depart the whole world and we have a great old time,” she says. “We’ve done everything from pretty intensive racing as a family to cruising in the Caribbean. There’s a lot of time on the boat where you’re not in connectivity with the world, so it’s fantastic.”

She has this advice for families trying to “have it all”: Find your own balance.

“What people want in their own heart in terms of spending more time at home or at work, it’s different,” she says. “One family’s balance isn’t another’s.”


We’ve partnered with Ricoh in engaging our community in important discussions about the advancement of women, focusing on “having it all.” How you define it, what factors enable you to achieve it, and how you have worked differently to meet your goals. Ricoh is a global technology company specializing in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services.


Living #InSync: Dina Pugliese on overcoming her inner critic and making her dream career a reality

After ten years as Co-Host of Breakfast Television, Dina Pugliese is accustomed to the spotlightbut it wasn’t always that way. We’ve partnered with Activia to share Dina’s story of how her experiences taught her to listen to her inner critic, trust her instincts, and find the balance that allows her to achieve her best.

By Hailey Eisen | Photography by Genevieve Charbonneau


Dina Pugliese spends her mornings in front of the camera, entertaining and informing Torontonians as they begin their days. Despite the rigid early morning schedule she keeps in order to work as Co-Host of City TV’s Breakfast Television (BT) Toronto, it seems as though she’s permanently in a good mood. And that’s not just an act. Unabashedly quirky, Dina remains committed to being her true self, or what she refers to as “that crazy Italian girl,” both on and off camera.

“In the age of YouTube, what’s resonating with people is authenticity and integrity, being yourself rather than the polished, perfect, robotic version of a person we’re used to seeing on TV,” she says. “What you see is what you get with us.” And that’s the way it always been, since Dina assumed the role of BT co-host in 2006. She writes all her own Tweets and tells her own jokes—and admits she’s no longer afraid of what others think of her. “Love it or leave it, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.”

But back in her 20s, Dina’s inner critic plagued her. An A+ student who graduated first from York and then from Humber College’s broadcast journalism program, Dina spent the early part of her career “doing her time” working behind the scenes, monitoring police scanners, making coffee, working the shifts no one wanted, and trying to build up the courage to apply for an on-air position. Like many women (according to a worldwide study conducted on behalf of Danone Activia, a full 62 per cent of women), she felt that her inner critic was holding her back more than most other things in her personal life.

When she finally did put together a demo tape and asked the news director at Global Television, her employer at the time, to take a look, he brushed her aside saying something along the lines of, “don’t get your hopes up, just keep doing what you’re doing.”

While she remembers feeling as though she might throw in the towel before really giving it a shot, she was lucky to have some incredible female role models rooting for her success. “I took the advice of Beverly Thomson and Mary Ito, both of whom I was working with at the time, and sent out my demo tape, which I happened to think was pretty terrible.”

Within three days she had two job offers.

Thankfully for viewers across the GTA who now rely on Dina’s uplifting spirit and natural on-air talent to kick start the day, the young reporter was able to work constructively with her inner critic, allowing it to guide her to her full potential. She pushed beyond her comfort zone in her first on-air job as entertainment reporter, writer, and producer of Toronto 1’s Morning Show, Toronto Today. “The truth is, if you work hard enough and really put yourself out there, you’ll get rewarded. I’m so grateful to be doing what I’m doing today,” she says.

“Love it or leave it, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.”

It’s this gratitude that guides Dina in her personal and professional life. “At 4 a.m. when I’m exhausted and people are Tweeting me to say good morning and wishing me a good show—that’s when I say to myself ‘let’s take on this day, let’s find the good, find the joy, and find the positive moments.’”

Feeling good about herself and overcoming her inner critic has allowed Dina’s positivity to flourish in all that she does. But working crazy hours and spending much of her life in the public eye means Dina needs to take time to find her balance, look after her own well-being and to connect with her husband, whose work hours don’t coincide with her own. “People used to say to me, ‘you have to get yourself out there and attend and host more events’,” she recalls. “Suddenly I found myself feeling burnt out. I didn’t want to disappoint people, but I had nothing left for me.”

Finding that balance was key to Dina’s success, and it has allowed her to maintain the same hectic schedule for 10 years as of this October. When she gets that gut feeling that she needs to rejuvenate, she says she goes into her “bubble” with her husband, spending a day or even a whole weekend in their PJs, watching movies, working on their backyard, or just doing nothing together. “It’s important that we make time for us to reconnect, just the two of us, and then schedule in other time to be with our families, our parents, nieces and nephews, and siblings.”

Family is extremely important to Dina, and a big part of the reason she’s never taken a job in the US (though she’s had the opportunity). “We didn’t try to have children until I was much older, and by then my body told me it was too late,” she recalls. “But I don’t have any regrets. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m so blessed to have so many things to be grateful for.”


Want to know more of Dina’s story? Watch her personal video as part of Activia’s Women InSync series, and see her in person on October 27, as she hosts an evening with Rocket Scientist and Explorer Natalie Panek. For even more inspiration, follow @activia_canada on Instagram and look out for the Live #InSync hashtag. You’ll see how exceptional women from across Canada are achieving that special state when body and mind are in harmony, and they are driven from within to achieve their full potential.

When is Enough Really Enough?: Work Life Balance

Q: I love my work even though I put in 10-hour days, monitor my blackberry for weekend and evening calls that usually require follow-up, and have never taken a vacation that involved being totally unavailable. I am—and have always been—fine with that. My doctor is not.

Recently I started having trouble sleeping and developed headaches almost daily. I go to work tired and pop a few Advil throughout the day. When I started getting winded after short walks, and experienced chest pains for no reason, that’s when I saw the doctor. There’s nothing wrong with me except my lifestyle.

I’ve taken control of what I can—cook more, take-out less; exercise early in the morning before work; and took the television out of my bedroom too. The symptoms aren’t going away. I’ve gone back to the doctor and the message is the same: the way I work isn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle. If I keep this up, something will go seriously wrong, that’s what my body is apparently telling me.

Here’s the problem: My job requires this level of dedication; my boss puts in longer hours than I do; the people who report to me are under pressure too. How do I make the case that my workload and way of working aren’t tenable without losing my job? How do I achieve a work life balance?

A: There is no question that your health comes first. Of course, the simplest way to respond to this challenge is for people to say, “turn your phone off” or “just disconnect,” but the reality is we have professional responsibilities that require our attention, at times around-the-clock. I’ve been guilty of checking my Blackberry while at a family dinner or sneaking away to write a press release during a vacation. There is nothing wrong with this type of dedication as long as you love your work and it brings you great satisfaction. But when you have a physical decline, you can’t ignore the warning signs. Take it seriously and reframe your day-to-day schedule.

First, sit down with your manager. Explain that your current pace is not sustainable and a potential hindrance to your department’s ability to deliver results. Most people managers are reasonable and understand what that could mean to the bottom line. If you happen to work for someone who isn’t as sympathetic, speak to your HR contact. It is in the best interest of your employer to keep you healthy, happy, and motivated.

Second, propose a plan. This is your opportunity to pitch a mitigation strategy. For example, consider a “smartphone off” period. Let your boss and direct reports know that between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. you will not check your phone. Hide it under your mattress and forget it. You may think, “what’s a few hours going to do when I have to go back to an inbox with hundreds of emails?” The emails will be waiting for you, but hitting the “off” button for three hours can do wonders for your perspective and ability to refresh.
Third, think outside the box. We are living in a time when we are truly connected—from our phones to our tablets to our TVs. You can work anywhere, any way you like. Restructure your team and think about a “work from home” Friday rotation. Not only will this be a relief to your employees who may need a pace change, it’s a good way to get some space and quiet for you to work.
Fourth, get comfortable with the idea that there is no perfect balance. We put a ton of pressure on ourselves to deliver 100% at work and at home. It isn’t realistic. Some days you’ll hit it out of the park at work, and some days you’ll be a superstar at home. The key is to keep overall balance. Don’t stress over the perfectly divided, colour-coded calendar that parcels time equally between work and personal. Use that energy to find pockets of time devoted to family, friends and yourself.

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A: I started my HR career in the financial services industry. While it gave me an amazing grounding in corporate policy, procedure and organizational structure, it didn’t quite fit my personality. Through trial, error, and some luck, I found that agency environments matched me perfectly.

Long story short: you should first figure out if your job and industry are a good fit. Reach out to people in similar roles to investigate if extended hours, weekend email and interrupted vacation time are par for the course.

If you find these things are unique to your company, perhaps it’s time to update your resume and high tail it outta there. If, however, these are challenges your entire industry faces, and you love your job, approach your manager with a request for change.

A clearly articulated business case always goes a lot farther than showing up and complaining that you’re tired and stressed out, so try this:
State your objective I’m a huge fan of the one-page business case. State why you are making the request, or the intended objective of the meeting, in a sentence or two.

Define your current state Go over the steps needed in current processes, systems and structures. Create a map or whiteboard this step before putting it on paper. That way you can clearly view the steps involved in the work being done. Stop right here if you aren’t intimately aware of the way things are being done, or if you haven’t investigated ways of doing them better. Working hard and working smart are different things.

Propose a future state Outline the changes that should be implemented and the efficiencies that will be created by them. Will new technology be needed? Additional headcount? Look a year down the road. Can your changes serve future needs as well?

Address benefits/risks What are the benefits to the company, culture and morale of your changes? Can they be quantified? Get your HR department to help with some statistics on your department turnover and absenteeism. Will your recommendations mean an improvement in department turnover and a reduction in absenteeism? Both are very costly to a company. Are there any risks involved with the recommended change? Be honest about them. Be prepared to show you have given them consideration.

Cost it out I have never been witness to a manager turning down anything that would improve efficiency if it was free. But I have witnessed the tossing of a proposal due to a lack of understanding of how much it was going to cost the company. Be honest and specific with your numbers.

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A: My initial reaction is that you’re in the wrong job, period.

Some expectations come from you and some come from the job, and until you manage your need to control, and for perfection, the anxiety and stress will never go away. This is as much about your own desires as it is about the expectation of your workplace.

At some point you have to accept that’s the reality of your work—late nights, no vacation, etc. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just is. The job you’re in might actually require commitment and energy that you don’t have. My advice would be go find another job, not go talk to your boss.

However, if talking to your boss lowers your stress, then awesome—you should do that. But I don’t think it will because you’re putting the blame for your challenge on your job instead of on yourself, and you are responsible for your own choices.

As an employer, I have an expectation that people will work hard and do their job. But if someone said to me: “I can’t work as hard as you do, but I will give it my best,” then I’m ok with that. How can I expect anyone who works for me to work as hard as me? It’s my company. Most entrepreneurs understand that.

But here’s why I think your work’s not your problem: People often take a job because it’s going to be good for their career, not because it’s best for them. Sometimes we make a career move that’s not a great choice for our talents and abilities, and it becomes a trap: we get overwhelmed by the requirements, but we get the salary, the position, the authority. It’s all great except that we hate it, or it causes us stress. In this case, you love the work, but you have the stress.

If there’s a physical manifestation of stress—even though you went and changed stuff, like eating better, sleeping more, etc.—then this is not a lifestyle issue, it’s a career issue. So go find what makes you happy. That’s easy for me to say, right? Because quitting means giving up security…but this is your health and nothing is worth that, is it?

If there’s an expectation to work this way, then you need to make a decision. It’s all about choices and, ultimately, if it comes down to your health, screw it. Nothing’s worth that.

If you have a Good Question for Women of Influence experts, write to us at

Young Women of Influence – Work-Life Balance Panel

So just who has it all? Success today is all about choices, balance and priorities; but few women feel they have a role model who’s actually achieved what they’re attempting to do. Hear from a panel of three women who have each forged their own distinct path, balancing between their professional and personal goals. Led by a woman who is not afraid to ask the tough questions, we’ll witness a dynamic discussion between:

  • Jennifer Broe: A young entrepreneurial mother, running a multinational manufacturing company.
  • Judi Cohen: A force of 30-years as a corporate leader and mother of two.
  • Shelley Kuipers: A serial entrepreneur of four companies and two children.

These brave women share their stories in hopes of teaching young female leaders that there’s more than one path to success.

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To continue to view the speech, click the arrow to the right of the video screen.